Buddhist flag To Canada, Buddhism in

Buddhist flag

Buddhism in Sri Lanka underwent a revival in the 1870s as Buddhist leaders responded to what they saw as the colonial government’s attempts to undermine the faith by support for Christian missionaries. An early victory in the revival was the government’s declaration of Vesak Poya Day (Wesak) as a public holiday, beginning in 1885. In response, the Buddhist leadership selected a Colombo Committee to help plan the first celebration, to be held in May 1885. This committee, headed by the Venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Suman-gala Thera, began to assemble a Buddhist flag to be used initially on the Full Moon Day of Wesak. Henry Steel Olcott, the president of the Theo-sophical Society, who had publicly identified with Buddhism, became involved in the process, making the suggestion that the flag be the same size as the Ceylonese national flag.

The flag, as initially revealed to the public in April 1885, is composed of colored stripes, each color representing a quality of Buddhahood and referencing the aura emanating from the Buddha in his enlightened state. The colors used are blue (compassion), yellow (the Middle Way), red (benefits of the practice of the Buddha’s teachings), white (purity), and orange (wisdom). The combination of the colors symbolizes the universality of the Buddha’s teachings. The flag was seen as having a variety of virtues but, most important, became a symbol of unity to Buddhists struggling under colonial rule by non-Buddhists. It became a symbol calling Buddhists to maintain strong structures in the face of competition. It has also been seen as continuing the tradition of using flags by Tibetan Buddhists.

The flag took on new significance in 1950 when at the suggestion of the first president of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, the organization adopted the flag as an official symbol for Buddhists globally. Since that time, the flag has permeated the Buddhist world. It had particular significance in Vietnam in the 1960s, when it became a symbol of the struggle of the Buddhist community against the presidency of Ngo Dinh Diem, whose government was attempting to make Roman Catholicism the state religion. The issue came to a head on May 8, 1963, when government forces entered a Buddhist gathering in Hue and tore down the Buddhist flags that had been hoisted against government regulations. In response, on June 11, 1963, a Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Due, immolated himself on a street in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). This action (followed by several similar actions) highlighted the lack of support for the American-backed Diem regime.

It is to be noted that there is also a Thai Buddhist flag, a red wheel on a yellow background, which is closely associated with the Thai royal family, who are notable Buddhists.

Buddhist Publication Society

Buddhist Publication Society (BPS), one of the major Buddhist developers of English-language texts, was founded in Sri Lanka in 1958 by two Sri Lankans, A. S. Karunaratna and Richard Abeyas-ekera, and the German-born Buddhist monk Nya-naponika Thera (1901-94). Based in Theravada Buddhism, the BPS holds to the Pali canon as the most authentic account of the historical Buddha and what he taught. While by no means limited to English-language publications, its two longstanding English periodicals, the Wheel and Bodhi Leaves, have had a significant impact in making Westerners aware of Buddhism. Each issue of the Wheel is a substantial booklet on major topics within Buddhist studies (philosophy, psychology, meditation, social teachings, etc.). Bodhi Leaves differs only in being smaller. Both are published triannually. More recently, the BPS has begun publishing full-length texts.

The BPS is headquartered in Kandy, Sri Lanka, and its aggressive publication program reflects a reaction to the history of displacement, which the Sri Lankan Buddhist community experienced during the years of British rule, a reaction begun by Angarika Dharmapala in the 1890s. The BPS also operates a large bookstore in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital.

Nyanaponika Thera served as the editor of the society for more than a quarter of a century (1958-1984) and as president for three decades (1958-1988). He was succeeded by an American, Bhikkhu Bodhi (formerly Jeffrey Block), a Pali scholar ordained in Sri Lanka who was an editor at the society from 1984 to 1988 and its president from 1988 to 2000.

Buddhist Society (United Kingdom)

The Buddhist Society is the oldest continuously existing Buddhist organization in the united Kingdom. It dates to 1907 and the founding of the Buddhist Society of Great Britain by Thomas William Rhys Davids (1843-1922), E. T. Mills, and J. E. Ellam. The society had a two-pronged program—the dissemination of Buddhist beliefs in the country and the study of Pali, the language in which the oldest Buddhist texts were written. The original work of the society was delayed somewhat by the arrival in England of a Buddhist mission led by Allan Bennett (1872-1923), who had been ordained as a BHIKSU (monk) in Burma and founded the International Buddhist Society (IBS) with the goal of evangelizing the West. After the completion of the first phase of the IBS work, the British society picked up its work.

In 1908, the society launched The Buddhist Review, the second English-language Buddhist periodical in the West (it was preceded by an American periodical, The Buddhist Ray, which had been launched in the 1880s). The society carried on through the years of World War I and experienced postwar revival somewhat countered by the death of three of its leading figures at the beginning of the 1920s. The vacuum created by their loss was filled by Francis Payne, who was already making an impact as a popular advocate of Buddhism. His speaking inspired the founding of what became the Buddhist Centre of the Theo-sophical Society.

Heading the Buddhist Centre was Christmas Humphreys, a convert to Buddhism who had found the Theosophists to be people who welcomed his interests and provided a context for his future studies. In June 1924 the Buddhist Centre and the Buddhist Society of Great Britain merged to form the Buddhist Lodge. The lodge remained associated with the Theosophical Society until the end of 1926, when it became independent and has carried on as the Buddhist Lodge, London. Much of its work for the next decade would be in conjunction with the British section of the Maha Bodhi Society, which grew from the several visits of Angarika Dharmapala (1864-1933) to England. The lodge did issue two important publications, a book, What Is Buddhism?, and a periodical, Buddhism in England. Through the 1930s the lodge nurtured various authors who were writing pioneering books on Buddhism, including Alan Wilson Watts (1915-1973), who began his journey to Buddhism at the lodge’s headquarters in London.

The lodge’s activity was thoroughly disrupted by World War II, but it emerged like a phoenix after the war with a new headquarters and a new name, the Buddhist Society. Buddhism in Britain was superseded by The Middle Way. Along with the Maha Bodhi Society, it was almost the only place one could find a group of Buddhists, and it opened its doors to believers from the whole perspective of Buddhist thought and practice.

In the years since World War II, the Buddhist scene in England has changed radically. Immigrants from former Buddhists colonies as well as refugees from China and Tibet flooded into the country and created a spectrum of Buddhist ethnic communities. At the same time, British citizens traveled to Asia and found Buddhist teachers. upon their return, they founded a host of new Buddhist groups. The Buddhist Society now found itself as the oldest Buddhist center in the midst of a rapidly expanding Buddhist community. Through the last half of the 20th century, the society’s role began to change. It emerged as a resource center for Buddhists with a large library and easily accessible bookstore. It also became a meeting place for Buddhists who followed the many variant paths available within the Buddhist tradition. One symbol of this changing role has been the Society’s periodic publication of the Buddhist Directory, a listing of the Buddhist centers in the united Kingdom and Ireland.

The society remains but a single community in London but is recognized as the center of the British Buddhist community.

Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom

Founded in 1975 as the Zen Lotus Society, the Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom is both a pioneer Buddhist organization in Canada and a pioneering Korean Buddhist organization for North America. The society is the lengthened shadow of the influential Buddhist master Samu Sunim, born Sam-Woo Kim in Korea in 1941. His parents died when he was a child and he grew up an orphan. He entered a Son Buddhist monastery at the age of 17. He completed three years as a novice, was ordained, and then studied under Master Slobong, a highly trained meditation teacher.

Samu Sunin’s meditation training was interrupted by his induction into the army, but as he had become a pacifist, he deserted and took refuge in a monastery. In 1966 he fled to Japan and a year later to the united States. He finally settled in Canada in 1968. He became a Canadian citizen in 1972 and took up residence amid the Korean community in Toronto. Delayed somewhat by health problems, he finally founded the Zen Lotus Society in 1975. Affiliated temples were soon opened in Ann Arbor, Michigan (1981), and Mexico City (1983). During its early years, the focus of the society was on the recruitment of monks and their monastic training. The adoption of the present name in 1990 signaled a change of emphasis toward the development of a lay community and a new vision of the society’s role in the planting of Buddhism in the West, a movement as important for Buddhism as was the spread of Mahayana Buddhism to China, Korea, and Japan in the first millennium c.e. This latter awareness has undergirded pan-Buddhist and interreligious activities promoted by the society.

To carry out its program, the Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom operates the Maitreya Buddhist Seminary, which offers a three-year curriculum to produce Buddhist teachers, and a shorter Dharma Guardian program aimed at lay leaders, especially urban professionals. The society publishes the quarterly journal Spring Wind: Buddhist Cultural Forum. In 1992, a fourth center, in Chicago, Illinois, was opened.

Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai (BDK)

The Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai (BDK), or Society for the Promotion of Buddhism, one of the most important independent organizations propagating Buddhism internationally, was founded in 1965 by the Reverend Dr. Yehan Numata, a businessman who is also a Shin Buddhist priest. Numata heads Mitutoyo Manufacturing Company, founded in 1934, and the founding of BDK was occasioned by his company’s 30th anniversary and its success in the global market.

While building his company, Numata had nurtured a dream to make Buddhist teachings more widely available. He gathered a group of people from a spectrum of Japanese Buddhist groups to engage in a nonsectarian mission to transmit Buddhism around the world. The first project of the society was the publication of a new edition of The Teachings of the Buddha, initially published in 1925. It is a basic text on Mahayana Buddhism that had been compiled by a group of Japanese scholars and distributed throughout Japan in the closing years of the Meiji regime. An English edition was released in 1934. Numata had repub-lished the English edition in 1962. The new BDK assembled a group of scholars to prepare a new English-Japanese edition. In the years since, it has been translated into 35 additional languages.

The BDK found in the program of the Gideons, an American group that specializes in placing Bibles in hotel rooms, a means of distributing The Teaching of Buddha. Over the last 40 years some 6 million copies have been placed in hotel/motel rooms in more than 50 countries. In the process DBK affiliates have been founded around the world.

BDK has developed an educational emphasis with the founding of a number of Numata Chairs in Buddhism at universities. It also launched the Tripitaka Translation Series, a publication program to issue copies of the Buddhist scriptures. In addition, Numata has established several Shin temples called Ekoji (Temple of the Gift of Light). Several are located in Japan and one each has been opened in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area; in Dusseldorf, Germany; and in Mexico City. BDK is headquartered in Tokyo.

Buton Rinchen Drup (Buston)

(12901364) scholar of Tibetan Buddhism

Buton lived during a time of rapid transformation of Tibetan society. At the time of his birth, Tibet was administered by the Sakya school under Mongol rule, although during his lifetime Mongol power would collapse, and with it the political power of the Sakyas. In their place there arose an indigenous Tibetan administration under Chang-chub Gyaltsen, which also led to a rise in power of the Phagmo Dru and Drigung Kagyu schools. Buton was also born several centuries into the second dissemination of Buddhism into Tibet. Buton himself would play a very important role in the development of this process.

Buton was born into a learned and devout family and engaged in religious reading and practice from a young age. He studied with masters associated with the Sakya and Kagyu schools. As a monk, he excelled at scholarship. over the course of his life he wrote a large number of commentaries on sutras and tantras. He was learned in Sanskrit and was one of the last Tibetan translators of Indian Buddhist works. He was particularly known for his advocacy of the Kalacakra Tantra as well as the Yoga Tantras. His was a major figure in the systematization of Buddhism in Tibet. His greatest contribution was the compilation of the Tibetan canon, which he organized into two divisions, the Kanjur, or translations of works attributed to the Buddhas, and the Tenjur, translations of works of scholarship by Indian masters. This was an extremely important achievement and marked a major turning point in the development of Tibetan Buddhism. It was also controversial, for Buton excluded from the canon a number of works that were important for the Nyingma school, because of lack of evidence that they were bona fide translations from Indian languages.

Buton was patronized by the princes of Zhva-lu (Shalu) in the Tsang region of Tibet and with their support built several temples and stupas there. He also gathered numerous disciples, who collectively constituted a distinct school known as the Zhva-lu-pa, which was also known as the Bu-lugs, the "system of Buton." While his school no longer exists as an independent institution, his influence lives on via the powerful impact he made on the study and practice of Tibetan Buddhism.


The buxu (pacing the void) dance and song sequence is found in many Daoist rituals today.

The earliest instance of this practice of pacing the void dates to a text from the fourth century c.e. In that example heavenly maidens sing a poem that mentions the practice of pacing the void. The void in this case is the cosmos, and "pacing the void" may refer to the practice of ritually marking off the constellations; it may also refer to a form of whistling. All these practices occurred to stabilize the ritual specialist’s energy when in contact with the divine. The buxu ritual became fixed under the influence of pradaskina, the Buddhist ritual of circumambulation. The early Lingbao Daoist texts contain such buxu hymns as the following:

The Immortal Lads, with solemn expressions, perform the pure hymn while the Jade Maidens advance slowly and turn, with gracefully glowing dance movements.

This hymn is now used in Daoist jiao (audience) ceremonies. Its performance was often accompanied by meditation, along with such instructions as these: "Grind the teeth three times, swallow three times, and then concentrate on the vision of the sun and the moon, in front of one’s face." (Schipper, p. 115).

Music, performed today alongside the ritual and mediations, serves to integrate the inner, visualized and outer, visible aspects of the ritual.


A cakravartin is a wise monarch, one who "turns the wheel" of the world. The concept of the cakra-vartin is found in Indian sources well before the time of the historical Buddha. The myth of the cakravartin is first seen in the Buddhist canon in the Digha Nikaya, in a section entitled Cak-kavatti Sihanada Sutta. The subject of this story is Dalhanemi. He rules over a golden age in which all live lives lasting 80,000 years. Dalhanemi rules through the Dharma, the Buddhist law. Simply through his presence he maintains the prosperity and peace of his age. The spinning wheel itself is one of the seven jewels of his reign. The wheel appears in the air at the beginning of Dalhanemi’s reign and remains suspended over his palace. Eventually the wheel begins to fall and finally sinks into the ground. At this point Dalhanemi retires and passes the crown to his son. Each king in turn must prove himself worthy of the wheel. Eventually one successor is not able to do so. No wheel appears, prosperity suffers, and an age of decline sets in. The king thus is responsible for the degradation of the world.

Later sources gave more detail about the types of cakravartin. Vasubandhu, the great Indian philosopher, gives four categories: those with golden wheels, who were qualified to rule all four continents; those with silver wheels, who could rule three; those with copper wheels, who could rule two continents; and iron-wheeled cakravartin, who could rule only over the continent of Jambudvipa, the land in which we humans reside.

The Buddhist tradition gave the concept of the cakravartin great emphasis. This is because there was a historical figure who approximated this ideal of an enlightened Buddhist monarch. The great Mauryan king Asoka was an iron-wheeled cakravartin (ayascakravartin). Asoka was the embodiment of the dharmaraja, the ruler who, as all cakravartins, ruled according to the Dharma.

The idea of a cakravartin can be said to provide the foundation for Buddhist thinking on governance, and the relationship of the ruler to the subjects as well as the Buddhist community and the Dharma. Asoka ruled after the Buddha’s departure, his parinirvana. Asoka in a sense substituted for the Buddha, acting as the linchpin that orders the world. Asoka also actively supported the Dharma through building 84,000 stupas and many sites of pilgrimage. Asoka created, it has been noted, a mandala of the elements of the world that could then be understood by all.

Later rulers in all Buddhist cultures used the image of the enlightened Asoka as an ideal to strive for in their efforts at enlightened rulership.

Cambodia (Kampuchea), Buddhism in

Since the extreme violence and disruption of civil war in the 1970s, Buddhism is again a major institution in contemporary Cambodia, a reflection of its traditional status. As were neighboring countries of Southeast Asia, Cambodia was influenced by Indian culture from an early date. Mahayana Buddhism as well as Brahmanism were both well established by the fifth century c.e. There are records of a mission sent by the ruler of Fu Nan, an early state in Southeast Asia, to the Chinese emperor in 503. Among the gifts sent were Buddha images.

The Khmer civilization that developed in Cambodia centered on Angkor. A cult practice that associated the Khmer rulers with major Indian deities developed. Some were associated with the Buddha himself. The rulers in turn built monuments to themselves. The area around Angkor Wat is dotted with impressive, massive monuments.

These complexes were difficult to maintain, however, and Angkor was abandoned in 1431. From that time Theravada Buddhism became the dominant belief system. Theravada was actually introduced to Khmer civilization late, by means of monks from Burma. The first inscription relating to Theravada dates from 1230. The first Therava-din leader was King Jayavarman Paramesvara (r. 1327?- ), who changed the language of ritual from Sanskrit to Pali.

Cambodia was a French colony between 1893 and 1975. After a fierce civil war, in 1975 Pol Pot and his forces established a communist regime, which lasted a mere four years but revolutionized society. The Pol Pot regime was antireligion; monks and nuns were forced into lay life, and monasteries were closed. This policy caused a radical shock from which Cambodian Buddhism is only now recovering.

After the Vietnamese invasion in 1979 Buddhism institutions began a gradual revival. With the newly elected government in 1993 Buddhism took central stage in Cambodian life. Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the new titular head of state, supports Buddhist rituals. Politicians today seek the blessings of monks at public gatherings.

Individual monks are now moving to the fore to take leadership of Cambodian Buddhism. For instance, a Cambodian monk living in exile in America, Mahaghosananda, has been involved in social Buddhism since the new regime began.

Canada, Buddhism in

At present, there are several hundred Buddhist centers in Canada, which represent the entire spectrum of Buddhist schools in Asia. As the 21st century began, they served an estimated 250,000 adherents. A large but still partial listing of Canadian Buddhist centers may be accessed at http://buddhismcanada.com/.

Buddhism was introduced to the united States by Chinese who responded to news of the California gold rush of 1849-50. Once in California, they flocked to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, where they attempted to search for gold and where they built the first joss (god) houses. In spite of the often unwelcoming atmosphere, the Chinese remained in California until 1858, when rumors of a new gold strike along the Fraser River in British Columbia led many to move north. Thus Buddhism entered Canada.

While many hoped to make their fortune and return home, the reality was that almost none became wealthy and year after year the migration from China continued. A subsequent gold discovery in the Cariboo region led to the founding of the first Chinese town, Barkerville, which became the home to some 4,000 by 1863. Most of the Chinese were Cantonese-speaking people from Hong Kong and Guangdong.

The migration to Canada was spurred by both hostility to their presence in the united States and the need for cheap labor. Many arrived to work on the transcontinental railway built across Canada in the mid-1880s. After the completion of the railroad, however, the Canadian government began to enact legislation to slow the immigration of further Chinese by periodically increasing the head tax that had to be paid by each immigrant. In the meantime, Japanese, many of them Buddhist, began to immigrate and found some success in the fishing business in Vancouver. Further Japanese immigration was limited by an agreement worked out between the Canadian and Japanese governments in 1909. Early in the 20th century, Japanese Buddhists were organized as part of the Buddhist Churches of America; the first "church" was formed in 1904.

During World War II, many Japanese were rounded up and placed in internment camps. This action totally disrupted the Buddhist churches but also provided the catalyst for the separation of the Canadian congregations as the Buddhist Churches of Canada soon after the war.

The small Chinese and Japanese Buddhist community in Canada grew very slowly until the 1960s, when changes in the immigration law again allowed Asians to migrate to Canada, and Asian immigration began to flow again, especially from Taiwan. Many of the new and old immigrants found a home in Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver, which has become the only city in Canada with a Chinese Canadian majority. A large temple built and maintained by the International Buddhist Society serves as an informal center of the Chinese Buddhist community. The Buddhist Churches of Canada also have their national headquarters in Richmond.

While Vancouver is the primary entrance point for immigrants into Canada, many have fanned out to cities across Canada, as far east as Toronto and Montreal. The several international Buddhist movements from Taiwan—the Amitabha Buddhist Societies, the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Association, Dharma Drum Mountain, Foguangshan, True Buddha school—all have multiples centers in various part of Canada.

As Asian immigration proceeded into the 1970s and 1980s, the rapid growth of Buddhism in Canada developed along three lines. First, as communities of immigrants formed, they attempted to recreate the religious lives of their former homes. Thus, as was true of their neighbor to the south, Canada saw the founding of a spectrum of not only new Chinese and Japanese Buddhist centers, but also Thai, Vietnamese, Laotian, Korean, and Sri Lankan centers. Canada and the united States have become important centers for the regrowth of the leadership of the Cambodian Buddhist community, which was almost completely eradicated by the Khmer Rouge regime.

Second, beginning in the 1950s, numerous Buddhist temple associations were formed in the United States founded both by Asian teachers and by Americans who had received a dharma transmission. The earliest of these were Japanese and a disproportionate number were from one of the Zen traditions. However, they were quickly followed by the whole spectrum of Tibetan schools, a selection of Theravada meditation (vipassana) traditions, and several Korean Buddhist schools. The more successful of these not only spread across the united States, but took advantage of the relatively open border between the countries to establish centers in Canada.

American groups with significant presence in Canada would include Vrajadhatu International, a Tibetan group founded by the late Rinpoche Chogyam Trungpa (1939-87), which in 1985 actually moved its headquarters from the united States to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, a Soto Zen group based in California, has two affiliated centers in Canada. The Insight Meditation Society, based in Barre, Massachusetts, which introduced vipassana meditation to North America, has now spread across the continent. The most successful Korean Buddhist group, the Kuan um School of Zen, also has two centers in Canada.

Third, several Asian teachers moved to Canada and founded groups that have expanded to multiple locations both in the country and internationally. Among the first was Samu Sunim (Sam-Woo Kim) (1941- ), who settled in Canada in 1968 and in 1975 founded the Zen Lotus Society, now the Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom. The society first spread to Michigan and Illinois but has more recently developed an extensive program centered on the Toronto headquarters temple. In contrast is Sei’un An Roselyn E. Stone, a Canadian who went to Japan to study Zen in 1977. In 1985, she was authorized as a Zen Master in the Sanbo Kyodan Zen Lineage, founded by Yasutani Hakuun Roshi (1885-1973) and passed through Harada Daiun Sogaku Roshi (1940- ). Stone now heads the independent Mountain Moon Sangha in Toronto and its affiliated center in Australia. The ubiquitous Soka Gakkai International has seven Canadian centers.

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